The Truth Will Set You Free: The Story of Tronvig Group

Tronvig Group, like many good things, started with a failure. Here is the story of Tronvig Group.

Not miraculous birth

the EXHIBITIONIST, Tronvig Group
Image: The Exhibitionist’s final issue

In 1997,  I was publishing The Exhibitionist—an art magazine that I had created with Christian Dierig and Christian Viveros. What I realized at the end of that year (when this issue was ready to go to print) was that while the creative side of the publication was working very well, the business side was not.

I bowed to the inevitable, closed the magazine, and kept the art director and a graphic designer to start a design company.

This is the NOT-miraculous origin story of what is now Tronvig Group. (The name Tronvig, by the way, came from my great grandfather, Charles Tronvig, who immigrated to the U.S. from Norway a century and a half ago.) My then young designers and I worked with ad agencies on a range of design and later, branding projects.

I bowed to the inevitable and closed the magazine.

Occasionally we landed a direct project. Some of the more interesting examples of these were projects for an HBO boxing show, the Louis Vuitton Classic in New York, and the brand development and launch campaign for New York’s Time Warner Center.

Childhood ends

In 2006, I made the fateful decision to create a business collaboration with one of my creative directors, and take on only direct-to-client advertising and branding projects. The clients in this first pass at being a full-service ad agency were the likes of Dassault Falcon Jets, Huelsta/Rolf Benz, and other mostly luxury brands.

This period can be characterized as one of solid creative work, but insufficient infrastructure for comprehensive and systematic project delivery. Basically, all that unsexy but essential stuff fell to me, so all of my time was spent working in the business, with nothing left over for work on the business systems themselves. Good for learning how to do all kinds of different things. Not so good for servicing larger clients.

The abyss

With the personally devastating collapse of the collaboration—and the economy—in mid 2008, the company hit rock bottom. Hard.

With the personally devastating collapse of the collaboration—and the economy—in mid 2008, the company hit rock bottom.

No need to dwell on the details. Suffice it to say that these were dark days in the wreckage of a terrible storm. At this critical juncture, however, the business—despite being faced with a host of issues—did not die. On the contrary, the situation served as a valuable object lesson in the power of dogged determination, boot strapping ingenuity, and hope applied. I wrote about this a year ago in Apparent Failure Focuses the Mind.

Tronvig Group was, in effect, stripped of all superfluous notions of what it should be. It was disabused of the idea that we could or should be anything other than what we actually were. And we were something.

Rebirth and redemption

So now, clear of heart and developing a new vision as a learning organization, the Tronvig Group as it exists now came into being.

We left Madison Avenue and our ridiculous rent and set up shop in a post-industrial building on the East River in DUMBO, Brooklyn, unaware that we were riding a wave of agencies doing the same thing.

As a group, we started doing work that was in alignment with our personal and professional values—things that the business was able to clearly articulate for the first time.

As a group, we started doing work that was in alignment with our personal and professional values—things that the business was able to clearly articulate for the first time.

We redeemed ourselves, but we were helped significantly by our serendipitous discovery by clients with quality products that actually did—and do—bring value and good to the world. The more inspired we are by the missions of our clients, the closer we come to becoming our own trim tab success story.

Our rise from the abyss has brought us to clarity of vision: “Finding creative ways to help our clients make the world better.” We are no longer doing poorly trying to do well. We are instead fulfilling a destiny that has us—to use the Quaker words of Ben Franklin—”Doing well by doing good.”

As a learning organization (a practice we gleaned from Peter Senge) we continue to build our capacities in digital, social media, and content marketing, logging these on top of our original core creative marketing and advertising credentials.

Bring gifts home

On our journey toward what we hope is home, we continue to build a roster of clients who share our vision of making the world better and who share our core values of truth, effectiveness, integrity, creativity, and kindness.

As humans and as organizations, it is from our mistakes that we learn most, and the truest test of a good organization is its ability to handle challenges it has never before encountered.

The next great expanse that we have begun to traverse is organizational growth with an emphasis on building up our process implementation and delivery capabilities. That may sound dull, but it isn’t.

If you are already a client, you will feel this progress as it happens. If you are not yet, you will think it was always that way—unless you know this story. And we think you should, because as humans and as organizations, it is from our mistakes that we learn most, and the truest test of a good organization is its ability to handle challenges it has never before encountered.

Such challenges happen nearly every day.

See you in the future.

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